"I want to take on everybody."

Joakim Noah didn't want to talk to me, not even for five minutes.

But after weeks of negotiating with handlers who warned of his short attention span and his tendency to flake, I'm sitting in Noah's living room in an oversize armchair within the gaze of an unnamed Native American whose painting hangs above the fireplace. The 6'11" Bulls center is in his kitchen -- lovingly stocked by his mom with oils and spices and a panini press -- fixing me a sandwich and offering life advice. It's hard to shut him up.

Noah lives in a sleepy suburban Chicago neighborhood, and his house has a bright red door with an armored knight standing guard outside. When I arrived four hours earlier, he greeted me with a smile and explained, in a voice both mellow and staccato, that I'd have to pass a series of physical and emotional tests before I'd be allowed to ask questions. I assumed he was joking -- until he asked if I'd brought running shoes. Instantly, I was reminded that the Bulls' agitating leader is known as much for intensity as for quirkiness. So we lunged, squatted and crunched through a makeshift but punishing obstacle course in the backyard before Noah sat down and began to pepper me with questions: "How old are you?" "Where'd you go to school?" "Is this what you want to do with the rest of your life?"